Fibromyalgia is a disorder that affects nearly 4 million people in the United States alone1. This syndrome includes symptoms like pain, achiness all over the body, tenderness at certain points of the body, generalized fatigue, and even brain fog2.
Fortunately, there are many natural methods that can help your body heal itself… including some lesser known, yet powerful therapies. So, if you want to support your body against fibromyalgia with natural methods, my approach is as follows:
- First, go see your physician to get a proper diagnosis, and to make sure you don’t have life threatening conditions.
- Then look into dietary and lifestyle changes that show evidence of being able to help fibromyalgia.
- If those don’t help enough, you can look to nutritional supplements that show evidence of benefit.
- Finally, if nothing else works… there are specific amino acid protocols and lab tests that you can use to help balance your neurotransmitters (brain chemicals). For many people, this is at root of their problem with fibromyalgia.
Overall, the beauty of natural health techniques is that they involve little to no risk. Because of this, you can try a variety of these techniques, to see if any of them can help your individual case. Best of all, you can do much of this yourself with little to no cost.
Then… if you need more aggressive intervention, you’ll at least know that the more basic techniques weren’t enough for your case. So we’re going to talk about all of these different options and how you can implement them into your life.
Toxic Additives, Food Sensitivities, and Oxidative Stress
When it comes to dietary changes and fibromyalgia, there are 3 main areas of your diet that you want to consider. These are:
- Avoiding artificial food additives with “excitotoxic” effects
- Identifying food sensitivities and allergies
- Maintaining your antioxidant defense system
Artificial food additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame have “excitotoxic” effects. This means that they overstimulate your neurons (brain cells) causing cell damage, and even cell death. Beyond this, excitotoxins like MSG and aspartame can also cause imbalances in your neurotransmitter levels.
One animal study for instance showed that MSG + aspartame together caused significant decreases in dopamine and serotonin(i.e. your “master” neurotransmitters.)” Aspartame overall is also known to affect both dopamine and serotonin. And as we will talk about in the last section…. neurotransmitter imbalance may be at the root of fibromyalgia.
Fortunately, eliminating MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame from the diet has shown to greatly reduce, or even eliminate the symptoms of fibromyalgia for some people67.
But because MSG and aspartame can go by many different names8… be sure to avoid all these food ingredients if you have fibromyalgia (and for your health overall.)
Another potential issue when it comes fibromyalgia are food sensitivities and food allergies. While having a full fledged allergy to a certain food may be obvious, a food sensitivity may not be. Food sensitivities can cause a wide range of symptoms including constipation, loose stools, diarrhea, bloating, stomach pains, fatigue, allergic skin reactions, runny nose headaches, and even migraine headaches.
But like many practitioners who work with food sensitivities, I’ve seen that it can cause a wide variety of “strange symptoms,” depending on the individual patient. This including fibromyalgia-like symptoms of pain all over the body.
The idea of food sensitivity causing fibromyalgia has also been looked at by researchers in relation to gluten9. We can estimate that about ⅓ of people with fibromyalgia should respond well to a gluten free diet. For some of these people, the condition may actually go away. For others, the fibromyalgia will remain, but with improvements in pain levels.
So here is an easy way to test yourself for food sensitivities. If you do find some food sensitivities, try avoiding these foods for a few months to see if it helps with your fibromyalgia.
Maintaining Your Body’s Antioxidant Defense
The last thing that you’ll want to make sure of, is to get plenty of antioxidants in your diet. Much like metal rusting from oxidation… many aspects of your body also get damaged by “oxidative stress.” This may also be a contributing factor in fibromyalgia11 12 13.
Fortunately, foods that are rich in antioxidants can help to reduce oxidative stress. Other plant compounds like “polyphenols” can help to “turn up” your body’s own antioxidant defense systems14 15. In terms of fibromyalgia, studies show that a variety of different antioxidants and polyphenols can be helpful.
For example, taking 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily showed some benefits against fibromyalgia16. This effect was not found with refined olive oil, which has had most of its antioxidant compounds removed in the refining process.
The beneficial compounds found in foods like cruciferous vegetables, coffee, pears, red fruits, and dark chocolate have also showed some potential against fibromyalgia17 18. A raw vegetarian diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, fresh juices is very rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. This is likely why a diet like this has also shown to benefit people with fibromyalgia19.
Diet can be a powerful tool to help your body heal from a variety of chronic illnesses. For those who are willing and able to make these changes, this is the first step to healing.
Bottom Line: If you’d like to try some dietary changes against fibromyalgia, start by eliminating artificial flavorings like MSG and aspartame. Then try an elimination diet, and avoid any foods that create symptoms of intolerance. Finally, make sure your diet is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols.
Restorative Movement Helps Fibromyalgia
There are a variety of lifestyle change that you can incorporate to help with fibromyalgia. These include increased exercise and restorative movement arts like yoga, tai qi, and qi gong
Exercise can help with physical function and mood in people with fibromyalgia. Try incorporating a 30 minute exercises class, 3 days per week.
Multiple studies have shown the benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia. If you’d like to try this, look for a “gentle restorative” yoga class for best effect. Though each class will be different, gentle yoga classes usually involve more “passive poses.” Unlike “active yoga poses”… passive poses are relaxing, rather than strenuous.
Tai Qi / Qi Gong
Chinese restorative movement arts like Tai Qi and Qi Gong have shown to benefit people with fibromyalgia in multiple studies24 25 26. Though they have differences, Tai Qi and Qi Gong are similar in that they involve mindfulness, gentle movements, and conscious breathing. If you are looking for a class, be aware that Tai Qi and Qi Gong are can be spelled in many different ways (i.e Tai Ji, Tai Chi, Qi Gung, Chi Gong, etc).
Nutritional Supplements Against Fibromyalgia
Since lab guided supplement programs are usually more costly, I generally recommend trying general nutritional supplements to see if they can help your case. So here some supplements that you should try.
People with fibromyalgia have been found to have low levels of magnesium27 28. Magnesium supplementation has also shown some potential for symptom reduction29. A good dose of magnesium is 100mg, 3-4x per day. Look for a “chelated” form of magnesium for better absorption.
Malic acid is a natural substance most well known for being in apples. One study showed that higher doses of malic acid and magnesium together were able to help fibromyalgia30. In this case, you’d want to work your way up to about 1200mg of malic acid, along with 300mg of magnesium, 2x per day. Increasing the dosage slowly allows you to see how it affects your body, as high doses of magnesium can often cause loose stools. Continue with this for 2 months before judging its effect.
Acetyl L Carnitine
Acetyl L Carnitine is a form of the amino acid L-Carnitine. Though it may help against fibromyalgia symptoms at a dose of 500mg per day31, even 1000mg is still a moderate dose. Just make sure to take it in the earlier part of your day to avoid insomnia.
Another aspect of fibromyalgia involves dysfunction in the cell’s mitochondria (cellular powerhouse)32 33. One of the best ways to support mitochondrial function is with CoQ10. People with fibromyalgia have also been found to have lower levels of CoQ1034, making it an important supplement to consider. A good dose of CoQ10 is 100-200 mg/ day… and it’s best to get a high absorption formulation for maximum benefit.
D-Ribose is a special type of sugar that has a variety of functions in the human body. It has been shown to increase energy creation in the cell, and help with the symptoms of fibromyalgia34. D-Ribose can be taken at the dose of 5g, 3 times per day. Use this for 3-4 weeks before judging its effects.
If Nothing Else Works…
If these methods above don’t help your case enough… or you find them too difficult to implement into your life… the best strategy would be a program to help balance your brain’s neurotransmitter function.
While fibromyalgia may have many contributing factors, neurotransmitter imbalance seems to be at the core36 37 38. This may also be why people with fibromyalgia often suffer with other disorders like chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression at the same time. All of these issues can be related to neurotransmitter imbalance also.
Balancing Serotonin and Dopamine: The Master Regulators
Your brain and nerves run on a variety of neurotransmitters… but the master regulators of your brain chemistry are serotonin and dopamine. When these neurotransmitters are low or out of balance with each other, it can contribute to a wide variety of disorders39. Most importantly, these neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (i.e. 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine), which can be supported with dietary supplements.
Note: While 5-HTP itself (a serotonin precursor) has been shown to help with fibromyalgia40 41, taking 5-HTP alone for too long can cause neurotransmitter imbalance42.
Neurotransmitter levels can also be indirectly measured through urine samples43. The reason we can do this is that your kidneys have a set of transporters (OCT-2) that control serotonin and dopamine levels throughout the body. The function of these transporters in the kidneys also reflect their function everywhere else in the the body (ie. liver, gut, brain)44. So when you balance the transporter function in the kidneys, they’ll be balanced throughout your body also.
The reason we say “indirectly test” is because the neurotransmitters in the urine are mostly created by the kidneys themselves. So they don’t directly correlate with the levels in your body. But when you take the amino acids that your body uses to make serotonin and dopamine, you can judge your neurotransmitter function by seeing how your kidneys react to the amino acids45.
This is why it’s important to do an “amino acid challenge test” which involves measuring your urine neurotransmitter levels AFTER starting with a basic dose of 5htp, L-Tyrosine, and co-factors. Without doing this challenge, a baseline urinary neurotransmitter test won’t be reproducible46. In other words, if you just test your urine without taking any amino acid precursors, the test results won’t tell you much about your situation.
How This Process Works
Overall, the process involves taking a specific dose of serotonin and dopamine supporting amino acids for a week. Then we seeing how it reacts with your body, and how they affect your urine neurotransmitter levels when necessary.
This process is repeated until we get to the optimal levels for your individual case. Some people need to try only 2 or 3 different doses, while other may need to go through 10 or more doses before finding the right dose for their situation (i.e. a Phase 3 response).
When nothing else works (or works well enough), this type of approach that I find to be most beneficial.
So as you can see, there are a lot of different techniques that you can use to support your body against fibromyalgia. My philosophy is to start with the most basic techniques, then move on to more aggressive intervention if needed. Best of all, you can start with many of these techniques yourself, with little to no cost.
However, if these techniques aren’t enough, you still have options. Ultimately, neurotransmitter imbalance seems to be at the core of fibromyalgia. Because of this, using a program to resolve this issue will help to support proper function in your body.
Do you have fibromyalgia? Have you tried any of these techniques to help your situation? Let us know your experience in the comments below!